How Grunge Changed Music and Style Forever

Abigail Carsner, Staff Writer

R&b, rap, rock, country, pop, techno, hip-hop, and metal. All these genres have something in common. They get inspiration from one of the most influential genres of all time. This genre has influenced nearly everything, from fashion to politics, embodying raw and honest emotions. I’m talking about grunge.

Before we go into the history of grunge, we need to establish what exactly it is. Grunge is a subculture of hard rock and alternative rock. Grunge is a mix of a calm, lazy sound and an angsty, loud noise. Founded in the state of Washington, grunge is mainly confused with noise rock and heavy metal.

It all started in 1979 with a man named Neil Young. Young’s band, Crazy Horse and Neil Young, made an album called “Rust Never Sleeps.” There were 8 songs on the album, and most of the album was recorded live. Many say this was the first grunge album, even if the word ‘grunge’ wasn’t even thought of yet. Young was eventually deemed “The Godfather of the Grunge.” The album has very grunge-like elements like the lyrics, the name of the album, the name of the songs, and the sound. Back in the 70s, when people thought of rock, they thought of Pink Floyd or Fleetwood Mac. Angst in music wasn’t popular yet, so Young’s album was revolutionary in the way it introduced people to rock that could be full of a harsh tone.

One of the first grunge bands was founded in 1983. They were called The Melvins. The band was inspired by KISS, Black Sabbath, and AD/DC. They were one of the first bands to mix metal and punk, which caused them to end up with an aggressive, angsty tone. Their first album was called “Melvins” and was made in 1986. The Melvins are one of the more underrated pioneers of grunge.

The term grunge was coined by Bruce Pavitt, in reference to Green River’s album, “Dry as a Bone.” He wrote, “Gritty vocals, roaring Marshall amps, ultra-loose grunge that destroyed the morals of a generation.”

Some record labels were also the reason for the rise of grunge; Sub Pop was one of them. Sub Pop was an indie record label, founded in 1986 by Bruce Pavitt and Johnathan Poneman. They signed grunge’s most popular bands. Poneman and Pavitt got into a disagreement about how the label would continue. Poneman wanted to become a larger label and make more money, while Pavitt wanted to stay an indie label. They partnered with Warner Bros in 1995, and Pavitt left in 1996 to spend more time with his family.

During the late ’80s and early ’90s, Grunge bands started to go through some changes. Many left Sub-Pop to sign with better labels, and other bands split up. Most bands started to become more popular.

One of the most popular grunge bands, Nirvana, was founded in 1987, by Kurt Cobain and Krist Novoselic. Cobain was the singer, songwriter, and guitarist, while Novoselic was the bassist. They went through many drummers until 1990 when they found a permanent drummer named Dave Grohl.

Grohl also founded the Foo Fighters in 1994. It started as a one-man project, but after the successful album, “Foo Fighters,” Grohl recruited Nate Mendel, William Goldsmith, and Pat Smear. Selling over two million copies, “The Colour and the Shape” was FF’s second and most popular album. FF came out with 8 other albums after their most popular album.

Nirvana’s biggest success was “Nevermind” in 1991, an album that would sell 30 million copies and would go Diamond in the USA. The band would come out with 1 more studio album called “ In Utero” before the band broke up after lead singer Kurt Cobain’s death in 1994.

Alice in Chains was another popular band in the grunge scene. AIC was started in 1987 in Seattle, by Guitarist and Vocalist Jerry Cantrell, and Drummer Sean Kinney. Later, they would recruit bassist Mike Starr and Lead Vocalist Layne Staley. Starr was replaced by Mike Inez in 1993. When Staley died in 2003 William DuVall took his place.

AIC’s biggest album was “Dirt”. Released in 1992, “Dirt” was the band’s second album and has 13 songs on it. It went quadruple platinum and sold 5 million copies worldwide. AIC created 4 studio albums after that, and they are still together to this day.

Many say that grunge died when Cobain died in 1994, while others say it died in 1996 when AIC released its “Unplugged” album, which fans consider the album ‘the last grunge album.’ Nobody knows when it actually died, but we know it was the mid-90s. Cobain didn’t start grunge and he didn’t end it either. The feeling was starting to change with a new millennium coming up, so the music started to change. Grunge would have died sooner or later; that’s how music trends work. Some genres like country or pop are just better at keeping up with the changing times. Grunge killed hair bands, just like pop-punk killed grunge.

Grunge was also a fashion style. It was made up of old, thrifted, or hand-me-down clothing. The clothing was loose and androgynous to hide a figure. Plaid shirts, band tees, sweaters, cardigans, ripped baggy blue jeans, and chucks were very popular in this style.

Some women in the sub-culture didn’t want to wear jeans and cardigans, so they would wear patterned dresses, leather jackets, fishnets, and doc martens. They would also wear dark red lipstick and messy, black, pencil eyeliner. Courtney Love, the lead singer and rhythm guitarist of Hole, also Cobain’s former wife, is an example of this style.

The subculture was also a political statement, but they weren’t as political as the punk movement. They stood for feminism, rebelling against gender norms, not supporting big corporations, and equality for everyone.

Grunge may be dead, but that doesn’t mean it won’t come back. The ’90s have started to come back and it’s bringing grunge back from the dead. Tiktok was one of the main contributors to this. Many creators are dressing up in dark makeup and a grunge style, with a grunge song in the background. Some of these songs consist of “Something in the Way” by Nirvana, “1979” by The Smashing Pumpkins, and “Everlong” by Foo Fighters. Chucks and Docs are also back in style, which were very popular in the grunge subculture. Many new musicians like Minatore and A Void are adding those grunge elements to their music too.

If you want to start listening to grunge, here are some bands you should check out:

Albums: “Bleach,” “Nevermind,” “In Utero”
Top 5 songs on Spotify: “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” “Heart-Shaped Box,” “Come As You Are,” “The Man Who Sold The World,” “Something In The Way”

Albums: “Ultramega OK,” “Louder Than Love,” “Badmotorfinger,” “Superunknown,” “Down on the Upside,” “King Animal”
Top 5 songs on Spotify: “Black Hole Sun,” “Fell On Black Days,” “Spoonman,” “Outshined,” “Rusty Cage”

Albums: “Pretty on the Inside,” “Live Through This,” “Celebrity Skin,” “Nobody’s Daughter”
Top 5 songs on Spotify: “Celebrity Skin,” “Malibu, Violet,” “Doll Parts,” “Petals”

Foo Fighters
Albums: “Foo Fighters,” “The Colour and the Shape,” “There is Nothing Left to Lose,” “One by One,” “In Your Honor,” “Echoes Silence Patience & Grace,” “Wasting Light,” “Sonic Highways,” “Concrete and Gold,” “Medicine at Midnight”
Top 5 songs on Spotify: “Everlong,” “Times Like These,” “Best Of You,” “All My Life,” “Monkey Wrench”

The Smashing Pumpkins
Albums: “Gish,” “Siamese Dream,” “Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness,” “Adore,” “The Machines of God,” “The Friends & Enemies of Modern Music,” “Zeitgeist,” “Oceania,” “Monuments to an Elegy,” “Shiny and Oh So Bright Vol. 1, Cyr, Atum: A Rock Opera in Three Acts”
Top 5 songs on Spotify: “1979,” “Bullet With Butterfly Wings,” “Zero,” “Tonight Tonight,” “Today”

Grunge is an incredible subculture with amazing music. It might sound weird at times, but grunge is supposed to be weird. Grunge is all about breaking social norms. Kurt Cobain once said, “I’d rather be hated for who I am, than loved for who I am not.” Which I feel defines the grunge subculture as a whole.